Cobia migration begins

Part of the What's Biting Series

Cobia Orange Beach

Spring families are filling our beaches, but it’s visitors from the east that have fishermen excited. The annual cobia migration has begun, and nothing announces the official start of fishing season as the report of the first cobia being caught. Unlike most spring breakers, these well-tanned travelers head north at this time of the year. They follow the coastline from south Florida all the way to Louisiana.

Last week Captain Mike Rowell on the Orange Beach charter boat Annie Girl caught the first cobia of the spring season from a boat. That was quickly followed up with reports of fish being caught from piers and boats in Destin, FL and Navarre, FL indicating that the fish were indeed on the move to our waters.

This spring cobia was caught on a jig on the charter boat High Cotton out of Orange Beach.

A walk up and down the docks at any local marina will also let you know the cobia chase is on. Captains are sporting early season raccoon eyes from staring at the water for hours on end through their sunglasses. Outriggers usually affixed to boats have been removed to allow for easier casting at the cruising crab crunchers.

Catching cobia along our beaches is a two-step process. Step one is to spot the fish. Cobia will swim just below the surface from east to west, sometimes in large groups while others will be by themselves. Large sportfishing vessels have the huge advantage of using their towers to spot fish as they approach the boat.

Captain Chris Garner of High Cotton Charters tells his customers the key is not to look at the water. “You have to train your eyes to look in the water, not just at the water. It is easy to look on top of the water, but to get good at spotting fish, you have to look in the water. You are looking for shapes and dark colors under the surface, not on top of it.” Garner says it’s also important to never take your eyes off a fish once you have spotted one.

Seeing a migrating cobia will get any anglers blood pumping and so will the ensuing pressure of making a great cast at the moving target. “Fish don’t have eyes in their tails, so it’s critical that you get the bait out in front of the fish, preferably 10-15 yards to give the fish a chance to react to the bait.” A common mistake is making a cast to a fish that you don’t see. “If you can’t see the fish, don’t make the cast. Wait until you make eye contact with the fish,” said Garner. So many times all of us get so caught up in making the perfect cast that we lose sight of the fish and make a cast that has zero chance of hooking the fish. That’s a lot easier to type than it is to do it in the heat of the moment.

Live eels and small baitfish are commonly used as well a specialized cobia jigs which are available at any local tackle shop. Garner and many other charter boats run daily trips usually from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., which allows the sun time to rise to help see the fish.

Although for different reasons than spring breakers, cobia fisherman like bright sunny days. Cloudless sunny days make for an ideal cobia trip with great visibility.  Last spring’s heavy rains made for a challenging cobia season. Proving once again that nobody likes a rainy spring day at the beach, except for maybe a cobia.


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Jim Cox
Jim Cox (1323 Posts)
Jim Cox is an avid inshore, offshore, and big game fisherman. He has twice qualified for the prestigious IGFA Offshore Championships in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He is the past president of the Mobile…